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Paul Rusesabagina, the man depicted in the film Rwandan hotels who saved more than 1,200 people during the 1994 genocide, has been detained in Rwanda for 20 months on terrorism charges that human rights groups call a sham. Now his family is suing the government of Rwanda for $400 million, claiming he was kidnapped, tortured and illegally imprisoned.
The Rwandan government abducted Rusesabagina, 67, in August 2020 in Dubai. Last September, a Rwandan court sentenced him to 25 years in prison. Rusesabagina is a permanent US resident and holds Belgian nationality.
“The Rwandan government has openly admitted that it is planning an elaborate operation inside the United States to track Paul Rusesabagina and use its agents to trick him into traveling – with false promises of contract work in Burundi – from his home. United States in Rwanda,” the family’s lawyers say in court documents. “He was drugged and taken to Rwanda where President Paul Kagame’s security agents forcibly abducted him, tortured him and compelled him to unlawful imprisonment.”
Rusesabagina has been a harsh critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, accusing the president of war crimes and human rights abuses. The family says the government targeted him in response.
Rusesabagina is best known for his heroism in 1994 as manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali, chronicled in the Hollywood film Rwandan hotels. He gave sanctuary to more than 1,200 people during extermination efforts that claimed the lives of some 800,000 people.
He has received several humanitarian awards, including the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2005.
In the late 2000s, Rusesabagina and his wife, Taciana, moved to the United States, settling as legal residents in San Antonio, Texas. But the Rwandan government has spent years tracking, spying on and harassing Rusesabagina and her family, according to family lawyers.
On August 27, 2020, Rusesabagina was traveling from the United States to Burundi for contract work. But his family said he disappeared during a layover in the United Arab Emirates. Rwanda’s Bureau of Investigation announced four days later that it had captured Rusesabagina, whom it accused of being involved in terrorism.
Rusesabagina co-founded the opposition Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change, which has an armed wing called the National Liberation Forces. The NLF has claimed responsibility for several deadly attacks in Rwanda’s Southern Province in recent years, Human Rights Watch said.
Rusesabagina was found guilty of the charges related to these attacks and was sentenced to 25 years in prison in September 2021.
Human Rights Watch called the trial “flawed” and “emblematic of the government’s exaggeration and manipulation of the justice system.” The US State Department said it was “concerned” about Rusesabagina’s “lack of confidential and unfettered access to his attorneys and relevant documents and his initial lack of access to counsel.”